Trump's travel ban will not stop coronavirus in US, WHO doctor warns

Trump’s travel ban will do NOTHING to stop coronavirus spreading person-to-person in the US and could make it worse by giving people a false sense of security, top WHO doctor warns as EU commission slams ‘unilateral decision’

  • Dr Margaret Harris warned Trump’s European travel ban will do little to help America fight coronavirus
  • She said restrictions had come too late because virus is already spreading person-to-person within the US 
  • Travel ban may actually cause virus to spread faster by giving people false sense of security, she added 
  • Trump announced a ban on all travel from the EU’s border-free zone, but none on travel within America 
  • EU Commission hit out at ‘unilateral’ decision, saying cooperation is key to combating a global pandemic

Trump’s European travel ban will do little to help the US combat coronavirus and may actually help the disease spread by giving people a false sense of security, a top doctor has warned. 

Margaret Harris, with the World Health Organisation, said that while travel bans are useful in the early stages of an outbreak, they are of little use when the disease starts spreading freely within communities – as it has in the US.

Rather than focus efforts on closing borders, she urged countries including the US to stop the spread within their own borders by rapidly testing people for the virus and ensuring they get appropriate treatment.

Meanwhile the EU Commission said it ‘disapproved’ of Trump’s decision, which was taken without consultation leading to confusion over how it would be implemented. 

European leaders stressed that cooperation rather than unilateral action is needed to combat a global pandemic. 

Meanwhile the UK, which was given an exemption from the ban alongside Ireland, said that there is little evidence to support the theory that travel bans are effective against pandemics. 

Trump announced a ban on citizens from any of 26 countries in the EU’s border-free Schengen Area from coming to the US, but said Americans, permanent residents and their families will still be allowed to fly

The hastily-announced move caused widespread panic and confusion, with American tourists rushing to El Prat Airport in Barcelona, Spain, in a desperate bid to get home before the ban comes into effect

Critics blasted the plan for containing no measures to contain the spread of the virus within the US where it is already being transmitted person-to-person (pictured, a worker at Life Care Center in Kirkland is disinfected)

Dr Margaret Harris has warned that it is too late for Trump’s European travel ban to be effective at fighting coronavirus and urged him to stop it spreading within the US instead

EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted that the coronavirus pandemic is a ‘global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.’

‘The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to improve a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,’ they said.

Given Italy’s nationwide travel lockdown and other measures taken by all the bloc’s 27 members, Von der Leyen and Michel dismissed Trump’s suggestion that the EU has not done enough in fighting the disease.

They say the EU ‘is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus.’

Their sentiment was echoed by Dr Harris, who said the WHO disapproves of travel bans because it causes countries to focus their efforts on the wrong things. 

‘[The focus should be on] stopping the spread within the community and really supporting the health system to be able to look after the people that are and do get severely ill,’ she said.

‘Early on… when you’ve got a big outbreak in one place and you’ve got no transfer within your community [a travel ban] can make a difference, but it’s something you need to keep on reassessing.

‘[Now] it gives a false sense of security because you think ‘ah yes, we’re doing something’ but if [the virus] is already in your community your focus needs to be on stopping it there. 

‘Just because people are from a particular country doesn’t mean they may have it, your own nationals who have been visiting that country are just as likely to have it.’

She spoke after Donald Trump announced a complete ban on people traveling from any of the 26 countries within Europe’s border-free Schengen Zone to the US.

The ban will not apply to US citizens traveling from European countries back to the US, permanent residents, or their immediate relatives.

The ban will also not apply to UK and Irish citizens flying directly from their home countries.

However, confusion reigned over much of the hastily-announced plan, right down to the time it would kick in.

Trump said during his address that it would begin at ‘midnight’ on Friday, but did not make it clear which time zone he was referring to.

Critics said Trump’s ban will do nothing to slow the spread of the disease inside the US where it is already spreading freely through communities

Experts have warned that a lack of testing means US cases could be up to ten times higher than official estimates, and are increasing at an exponential rate

Europe has become a new hotbed of the virus after a sudden outbreak in Italy in late January snowballed and caused tens of thousands of cases across the continent

Q&A: WHAT IS THE US’S TRAVEL BAN?

WHO WILL BE BANNED FROM ENTERING THE US?

US President Donald Trump said any foreign citizens who have been to a country in the European Schengen zone within the past two weeks will not be allowed to enter the United States.

This applies to people who have been to Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

US citizens, their immediate family members, and people who are legal permanent residents are not included in the ban and will still be allowed into the country.

People travelling from the UK will be able to fly into the US as usual – as long as they haven’t been to an EU country – because Britain is not in the free movement area.

Americans who are travelling back from the affected areas will be funnelled through select airports where they will go through ‘enhanced screening procedures’.

WHAT DID DONALD TRUMP SAY?

In a speech broadcast from the White House, President Trump said: ‘We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.’

‘The virus will not have a chance against us – no nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States,’ he said.

‘This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history… I will always put the well-being of America first.’

A statement from the US Department of Homeland Security added: ‘While these new travel restrictions will be disruptive to some travelers, this decisive action is needed to protect the American public from further exposure to the potentially deadly coronavirus.

‘In January and February, the Administration issued similar travel restrictions on individuals who had been in China and Iran.

‘That action proved to be effective in slowing the spread of the virus to the US, while public health officials prepared.’

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO PEOPLE WHO FALL FOUL OF THE RULE?

The travel ban will come into force tomorrow, Friday March 1. It is not yet clear what will happen to people who have already booked flights from Europe to the US.

Anyone who decides to travel in violation of the new law is expected to be turned away at either their departure airport or at the US border when they land.

It is not known whether the US will quarantine people who demand to enter the US or simply force them to fly home.

The Department of Homeland Security said it will issue more details about how the rule will be enforced by Friday.

HOW BAD IS THE CORONAVIRUS SITUATION IN THE US?

At least 1,315 people in the US have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 38 have died.

44 states are known to have infections, with Washington the worst affected (373 cases, 30 deaths), followed by California (177 cases, 4 deaths), Colorado (34 cases) and Florida (29 cases, 4 deaths).

No dramatic measures have been put in place nationwide, but some states are making moves ahead of the government.

Ohio has limited large gatherings and ordered schools to temporarily close for deep cleaning and so that staff have time to plan for longer-term shutdowns.

All 12 of Florida’s universities are closing their dormitories and presenting classes online.

In Wisconsin, all residents have been told to avoid all non-essential travel.

Oregon and California have banned gatherings of more than 250 people, with smaller gatherings only permitted if people are able to stay six feet apart.

Washington state has adopted similar rules and has closed all schools in Seattle, with 50,000 children told to stay at home.

It was also not clear how airlines would rearrange their schedules to fit the new rules, and whether flights back to the US from Europe would actually keep running.

Further confusion was caused when Trump said during his statement that goods from Europe would also be included in the ban, then hastily clarified that they would actually be exempt.

Different US departments and officials also gave conflicting advice on what – if any – checks Americans would face in order to be allowed on flights home and whether they will be quarantined on arrival in the US 

The Department of Homeland Security said it would need 48 hours – right up until the time the ban comes into effect – to figure out how it will be applied. 

There were also fears that Europeans wanting to get to the US would flock to London to try and skirt the ban.

A Heathrow spokesman said: ‘Following the US Government’s announcement, we are working through exactly what this means for passengers travelling through Heathrow. 

‘We continue to work closely with Government, Public Health England, Border Force, and airlines to ensure the safety of our passengers, colleagues and the wider UK. Further guidance will be provided shortly.’

While Asia remains the worst-affected region overall, cases in China are in decline and the infection rate is slowing down in South Korea – while it is still accelerating in Europe

A man wears a face mask and surgical gloves to prevent Covid-19 spread, at the New York City

Passengers from the cruise ship Grand Princess waiting to board a chartered flight on the tarmac at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, California

People wear masks at the international terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California

An empty road that runs past terminals is seen at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California

Trump’s address also made no mention of measures being adopted by other countries to stop the spread of the virus within their borders – like closing schools, banning public gatherings and restricting travel between cities.

While he did announce support for those on heath insurance to cover the cost of coronavirus treatment, he made only a brief mention of test kits and did not say whether the waver would apply to testing. 

Other countries have announced they will start testing tens of thousands of people for the virus each day, and have opened drive-through test points to stop people cramming into hospital waiting rooms where they could get infected. 

Senior Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer urged Trump to back their move to offer free testing kits, instead of shutting borders. 

‘We have a public health crisis in this country and the best way to help keep the American people stay safe and ensure their economic security is for the president to focus on fighting the spread of the coronavirus itself,’ they said in a joint statement. 

The Association of Flight Attendants was also quick to criticize Trump, branding his travel ban ‘irresponsible’ and saying it is ‘about politics, not public safety’.

‘There is no explanation for how this will help fight the spread of the virus,’ a statement said. ‘It makes little sense when the virus is already in the United States. The President expressly stated the United Kingdom is not included in the travel ban and yet the UK health minister herself has the virus.’

About 4,600 people have died so far worldwide. In the US there are over 1,300 cases of coronavirus and 38 deaths as of Thursday morning. Some 366 of those cases and 29 deaths were reported in Washington state. Numbers are expected to skyrocket in the United States once more testing is done. 

Many states have moved ahead of the White House on preventing the spread of the virus, and have already started limiting travel and putting in place ‘social distancing measures’ to limit contact between people.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has limited large gatherings statewide and ordered schools to temporarily close for deep cleaning and so that staff have time to plan for longer-term shutdowns.

A person peers through the blinds from inside the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility that has seen the most deaths from coronavirus of anywhere in the US

Clean up crews from Servpro gear up and go inside the Life Care Center of Kirkland

Students cart their belongings out of a dormitory before a deadline to vacate University of Dayton in Ohio after it was closed to slow the spread of coronavirus

New York City subway staff disinfect a train station in an effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading

All 12 of Florida’s state universities are closing their dormitories and presenting classes online, following in the wake of institutions such as Harvard, Columbia, Princeton Cornell, Stanford and Yale which have either shut down campuses or cancelled in-person classes and moved online.

In Wisconsin, all residents have been told to avoid all non-essential travel while Washington Governor Jay Inslee has banned gatherings of more than 250 people in and around Seattle, with social distancing measures such as mandatory distance between customers in place in bars.

Oregon and California have also banned gatherings of more than 250 people state-wide, with smaller gatherings only permitted if a minimum distance of 6 feet can be guaranteed between people.

Washington state has also closed all public schools in Seattle starting Thursday, with 50,000 children told to stay at home.  

In New York, the suburb of New Rochelle was placed in containment in an attempt to isolate a cluster of cases. 

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

With the virus now present in all 27 EU countries, the bloc’s top officials have pledged to stand united in fighting the disease and are likely to adopt a common approach in their response to Trump’s announcement.

This week, von der Leyen announced the launch of a ‘corona response investment fund’ seeded with 7.5 billion euros that she said would reap billions more. It’s aimed at propping up health care structures, small businesses suffering from the impact of the virus and labor markets where jobs might be hit.

A nearly empty dining area near where food trucks park at a downtown park is pictured in Seattle

A traveler wears a mask in John F Kennedy International Airport in New York

Officials put on their protective gear before interacting with those in line to get tested for the new coronavirus in Denver

California officials cordoned off the sculpture of a bear outside the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop people touching it amid fears it will help spread the disease

Von der Leyen postponed a trip Thursday to Greece to discuss the migrant stand-off with Turkey in order to focus on combating the rapid spread of the virus.

Several EU meetings have been cancelled to slow the spread, but the bloc’s interior ministers are still scheduled to gather in Brussels on Friday. EU health ministers were holding a video-conference later Thursday.

As the virus spreads, more European countries are adopting drastic measures. After Italy entered a lockdown, Denmark said all schools and day-care facilities in the country will be closed from Monday. All public servants who don’t perform critical functions, have been ordered to stay home for the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army decided to cut down the number of troops taking part in massive war games that have been planned across Europe over the next six months because of the virus pandemic.

The Defender-Europe 2020 exercises were set to involve around 20,000 American personnel, the biggest deployment of U.S. troops to Europe in the last 25 years.

But U.S. Army Europe said ‘in light of the current coronavirus outbreak, we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of U.S. participants.’ No details on numbers were provided.

CDC: HOW TO SLOW THE CORONAVIRUS SPREAD

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